The State of Protestantism Today

In June of this year, the largest Presbyterian denomination in America voted to allow their clergy to perform same-sex “marriages” within the church, thus joining the ranks of other Protestant denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Episcopalian Church, and United Church of Christ.

This “evolution” of theology and “modernizing” of church doctrine is a trend that I predict we’ll continue to see in non-Catholic Christian circles for years to come, and not just with marriage. Today, nearly all Protestant denominations support and even advocate the use of artificial birth control, turn a blind eye to divorce, and many allow at least some level of support for abortion.

Of course, not all Protestants are willing to “move with the times”, so to speak; there remains, especially among the more conservative groups, quite a bit of dissent. However, it cannot be denied that many modern day Protestant denominations are falling further into the depths of secularism.

While it pains me to see Christians turning their backs on the sanctity of life and marriage, I have to admit that whenever the media lights up with news of another Protestant church endorsing an otherwise wholly unchristian act, I find myself entirely unsurprised.

The reason for my utter lack of shock lies, interestingly enough, within two of the critical tenants of Protestant Theology: the doctrines of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sola fide (faith alone). (I discuss these two at length here and here)

As Catholics, the Bible is not our sole source of authority, nor was the Catholic Church based upon it. In fact, what we now call “The Bible” — the collected Old Testament and New Testament writings — was put together by the Church herself, and is meant to enrich and support our doctrine and Tradition.

(Consider too that the Gospel is the written testimony of the teachings of the apostles, which, due to apostolic tradition and the God-given teaching authority of the Church, precedes the written text. Thus, any authority of the Scriptures is derived from the recognition of the Church.)

Yet, the Protestant Reformation severed the Tradition from the Bible, and put all other authorities beneath it. By doing so, they created a type of religious relativism (unwittingly, I’m sure) that opened the door for an “anything goes” mentality.  So long, of course, as it can be found — or not found — in the scriptures.

For years, sola scriptura was a major weapon against Catholic theology, claiming that our practices were either absent or directly forbidden by Sacred Scripture. However, since the latter part of the 20th century, the charges that “Jesus never said (x)” or “That’s not in the Bible” have turned on themselves and have now become, “Jesus never said (x) was wrong, so that means (x) must be okay.”

This idea blends well with many in my generation, the millennials, who wish to hold on to some shred of spirituality but cannot bring themselves to relinquish the desires of the flesh.  It is also a base notion of “Progressive Christianity”, which is basically the feel-good parts of following Christ without any actual sacrifice.

The same problem goes for sola fide. Though the only place in the Bible where the words “faith” and “alone” appear next to one another is in James 2:24 (“See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”), it still remains a significant tenant of Protestant Christianity. However, much like sola scriptura, it has seemingly evolved into an even more bastardized version of itself that states, “As long as I’m a good person and believe in Jesus, I’m okay.”

Now, understand, I’m not among the ilk who believe that Protestants can’t go to Heaven (though the path is significantly more challenging, and not in a “take up your cross” kind of way). They can, and many will. I do believe, however, that Christianity was never meant go in this direction. And I certainly believe that, should things continue in the manner, modern-day Protestants will eventually have nothing left to call Christian at all.

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8 thoughts on “The State of Protestantism Today

  1. Hello! Interesting article! I read it from a post someone shared on Facebook.

    I am a non-Catholic Christian. Like you, I’m always saddened to hear when Protestant churches stray from the central teachings of our Christian faith. However, I would disagree with you that these problems are the result of the Protestants view of sola scriptura and sola fide. I am not writing to defend either of those doctrines (Although I have defended on in a blog: http://www.featheredprop.com/theological-works/are-we-justified-by-faith-or-faith-works/ ) Instead, I am writing to disagree with your belief in these concepts have contributed to the delinquency of the church, because they have been severed from the tradition of the church. Even a causal read of church history will convince anyone that the Roman Catholic church (which recognizes tradition) has not always been faithful to Jesus.

    No, it is more than just failing to recognize church tradition that causes a heart – or a congregation of hearts – to stray from our true calling. What makes Catholic and non-Catholics alike to fail in following the words of Christ is to have self-centered hearts, disobedient hearts that refuse to submit fully to Jesus. When individuals who have decided to be obedient to the Spirit’s leading come together, they become a body of believer’s who have decided to be led by God’s Spirit. I believe that anything else will cause one to stray – tradition or no.

    Much peace,

    dane

    • Dane,

      I appreciate your comment. And let me please begin my stressing that I do see Protestants as my brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow Christians, and, though I do pray for the day when all Christians can be untied under the CC, I want first and foremost for people to find, love, and worship Christ.

      No, the Church hasn’t been perfect, and we have strayed from time to time, but that’s not the heart of the matter here, and I do absolutely agree that disobedient hearts lead people away from Christ.

      The problem, however, isn’t isolated incidents of sin. It’s full congregations falling away from Christian teaching and adapting to the ways of the world. And the fact is, these doctrines very much open the door for that, because they are theologically incomplete. Without the foundation of the tradition, they are, as the song goes, built upon the sand. The tradition, magesterium, and apostolic authority are what keep the Church unified and our doctrines sound. Things like gay marriage, abortion, divorce, and contraception aren’t even up for discussion in the Catholic Church. They are impossible to change. Regardless of what he media might tell you.

      Of course, it certainly doesn’t help to have a disobedient heart.

      Thanks again for reading.

  2. Sola scriptura as a method of transmitting truth would be analogous to the Founders of the U.S. writing a Constitution but providing no court system to interpret it. Thus, everyone would interpret the Constitution to the best of their ability. I hope that it is obvious that this would be a recipe for mass chaos. If the founders of the U.S. would never be that stupid, why should we think that God would?

    In fact, God did institute a Church, which, among other things, interprets the Bible authoritatively, and then He one-ups what we humans can do by protecting the Church from error in its official teaching, so that we can always know with certainty the moral and religious teachings that will bring us to greater abundance of life. He does this despite the bumbleheads who often run the Church.

    Otherwise, like the Constitution without a court, we predictably become divided over very basic issues. Is Baptism a Sacrament that fills us with God’s life and makes us fully a part of His family, or is it just an optional symbolic ritual? Is Communion God’s very Body and Blood meant to nourish us in God’s grace, or is it again, a mere symbolic ritual?

  3. Do not forget the Orthodox church in your discussions. It has a lot to say on these matters and most of it is in agreement with the Catholic Church. The Orthodox church is based upon holy scripture and holy tradition, the profound teachings of 1500 years of inspired men and women. The weakness of Protestantism is that it wipes away that 1500 years as if it meant nothing. Calvin’s predestination theology was the fruit of that grave error. How could a loving God do such a thing? Had they been armed with what they so casually rejected, they could never have believed such a thing. They inherited gold but instead chose a stone.

  4. Matthew,
    Does the actual practice of western Catholics actually match the doctrine? I don’t think so.
    Conservative Cathoilcs will cry out ” Doctrine hasn’t changed!”, but that message doesn’t seem to be reaching most Catholics here in the west.
    In short, these extra sources of authority seem to be just as lacking.

    • I’m not sure I see any strength in your argument. Regardless of what members of the laity may think, they can’t change anything or decide for themselves what the Church teaches and continue to call themselves Catholic. That aside, what do you mean by “most Catholics”?

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